Wystan Hugh Auden (W. H. Auden- 1907 – 1973) was an English-American poet. He has written about four hundred poems of varying styles and The Capital is one of his short poems. Auden’s poems were known for its engagement with politics, love, morals and religion. It was stylistic, and had a variety in tone, content and form. His works were also known for its technical achievement. His critics say that his style changed as he grew older and changed his perspectives. Later in life he has rejected some of his own poems saying that they were not his honest views and that it was rhetoric. He became popular in the 1930s when he was twenty three. He wrote ballads, limericks, doggerel, haiku, villanelles and bariqueeclogue in the Anglo-Saxon meters.
The poem The Capital is about the life in the city and its falsity. There are places where the rich are always waiting for some miracle to happen. There are little restaurants where the lovers are eating at each other. The cafes are full of people from the village and it is looks like a poor version of a village. People have worked towards abolishing the severity of winter or the compulsion that comes along with spring with their charm and apparatus. The disciplinary father is very angry the children’s ways. The obedience is very superficial and is very apparent. The city orchestras are grand and luxurious or that is what they seem to be. Once again it is an illusion and not the truth. The city betrays the people giving a feeling of infinite powers while in reality the innocent unobservant person becomes an offender in a moment. The ones in the city are victims to the invisible furies which are the dreams and ambitions.
The city is not lighted and in the darkness the people continue to hide the secrets. The factories that have come up in the cities have become so mechanical and there is no value for life. The people are easily replaced so they are used temporarily. This is because there are enough people migrating from the villages to the cities. The reference to collars and chairs are that of electric chairs and collar which are used for punishment. The lives of the people are as battered as being punished with these devices. Even when there is so much darkness around the sky is illumined by the lights of the city. These city lights are seen from a long distance. It can be seen even from the countryside. These lights loom large and still for the villagers and they beckon them night after night. Yet the people in the village forbid the people to go into the city but in vain. The pull to the city is so strong that all the warnings and hints do not have any effect on the people.
Structure and Important Themes
There are 18 lines in the poem and it is a free verse with no specific rhyme scheme. W. H Auden uses modernism to focus on dark imagery thereby casting a negative emotion about the cities. Modernism was a style that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century. The modernists experimented with the literary forms of expression and broke away from the traditional styles of poetry. Writing poetry took a new style; there were layered meanings in these verses and it was not what was seen till then. The meter, rhyme and idea were according to the whims of the poet and no such poems or poets were ostracised.
Under the influence of modernism, Auden chose to write unique poems which were not tradition bound and not a normal poem. Like other modern poets, W.H. Auden has also place layered meanings and one can understand it only when it I read a couple of times. The situation or times when Auden was living has influenced his writing. He is trying to make a connection between his personal opinion and the government. The Capital is the symbol and representation of the government. The main theme of the poem is the emotion it thrives on and his personal opinion of the government. It says we have a voice, an opinion on any matter and it has to be heard. To stress that point the words’ your and you’ is often used so that the reader also sees the point of view of the poet and expresses his or her views irrespective of the fact that it agrees with the government or not.
The Capital is a free verse and not many poetic devices are seen. The setting of the poem is in the city and the poet does not have one nice word of the city. The restaurants, cafes, lights of the city are the words that set the setting. There is a mention of the village as well. Irony of the city is seen in almost all the lines. Rich who are already blessed wait for miracles to happen. The city promises of infinite powers but there is nothing at all. The city which has nothing much to offer beckons the people from the village with promises that are never going to be fulfilled. The mood of the poem is negative; negative about the city and the government.
“Like collars or chairs, rooms where the lonely are battered” is a line where symbols are used to indicate something terrible about the city. Chairs and collars refer to the electric chairs and electric collars which are torture equipment. The life in the city is as bad as sitting on the equipment as one gets battered there. There are many adjectives used to make the whole poem very descriptive; the descriptive words create the mood of the poem very effectively.
W. H. Auden has portrayed the spiritual and social malaise of his times. Individuals are trapped in the enchantments of the city and are trapped within themselves. They are unable to escape the social repression and the psychological pressures once they are ensnared into the city lights.